By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service
March 19, 2007 – Twenty-one vessels will soon be added to the Iraqi navy fleet, putting it another step closer to being operationally independent, officials said during a Baghdad news conference yesterday. With a contract on the verge of completion, the Iraqi navy is the first of the country's forces to use the Ministry of Defense's procurement process with Iraqi money in purchasing major capital programs from foreign governments and commercial ventures.
"The Iraqi navy has come a long way since the end of the hostilities," U.S. Navy Capt. Michael Zamesnik, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command liaison officer to Multinational Force Iraq, said "They were an organization that had been ravaged by the effects of the war, and they are making great strides to rebuild themselves."
Zamesnik said that the force is making positive steps and continuing to grow in the areas of equipment, training, manning and procurement. Iraqi naval installations are going under massive modernization efforts to build roads, utilities and barracks in addition to the reconstruction of piers to support the incoming vessels, he said. By 2010, 15 patrol boats, four patrol ships, and two off-shore support vessels will be added to the current fleet of fast attack boats and Predator-class ships.
"They have a 24-hour capability, are armed for self-defense, and I would say the Iraqi navy is considering these to be the jewel in the crown of their future fleet," British Navy Cmdr. Paul Marshall, Royal Navy advisor, said.
"Any navy in the world would be proud to have an acquisition program that increases capability by that amount within such a short time scale," Marshall said.
He said that the Iraqi government shows a lot of commitment and faith in the program by supporting it with resources and policies. The Iraqi waterways will continue to become safer with the increased number and skills of personnel, as well, he said.
Four battalions of Iraqi marines are being trained to provide all-point defense for the oil platforms, while navy diver platoons are being developed for maintenance on ships and platforms.
The Iraqi navy will take sole responsibility to ensure the security and protection of territorial waters and key infrastructure within its area of responsibility and to counter terrorism, smuggling and illegal activity at sea.
British Navy Capt. Tony Radakin, commander of the Naval Transition Team at Umm Qasr Naval Base, said that a recent coalition commander referred to the Iraqi patrol boats as one of his best assets. "That's simply because of their understanding of local waters, their ability to help shepherd any (Arab ships) that might be coming too close to the oil platforms, and to do that probably a lot more effectively than some of the coalition ships," he said.
The performance of the Iraqi navy and marines is "actually very good," Radakin said.
He attributed the recent decrease in piracy and oil smuggling in area waterways to current navy efforts. He also said that the heightened visibility of the navy has created safe waterways for the major commercial ports that have led to quadruple increases in port revenues.
"The Iraqi navy is a story of success," Zamesnik said. "They've done a very solid job of rebuilding. I know it will continue, along with coalition assistance."
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